Black Pearl Bakery: Local Eateries Go Beyond Fast Food
5534 Pulaski Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19144
When it comes to eating, many neighborhoods of Philadelphia are ruled by fast food culture, with McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC lined up along the major thoroughfares. In Germantown, however, one simply needs to know where to look in order to escape the almighty burger and find a taste of something different.
“Ackee and salt fish, salt fish and butterbean, callaloo white rice, stir fried chicken, rice and peas… yup, they have a bit of everything,” says Christopher Thompson, a customer with a thick Jamaican accent at K & J Caribbean American Diner.
The tiny Caribbean restaurant, located at 5603 Greene St., is a far cry from fast food, with the smells of island cooking heavy on the hot, humid air outside. An extensive menu is taped inside the Plexiglas structure surrounding the counter, of which Thompson’s listed favorites take up just a small portion. The man behind the register doesn’t say much, and the time between ordering and receiving the food isn’t any longer than a trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru. But the end result is much different.
“Butterbean and salt fish with white rice,” says Thompson about his lunch choice. “I guess it’s in our culture, and it’s just healthy for you, you know? And when I eat it I don’t gain any weight or nothing, so it’s good for me!”
Before he leaves the store he turns and jokes with one of the employees at K & J’s, a large smile crossing his face as the employee responds with something indiscernible and heavily-accented. But the message was clear: Thompson was a regular, and this kind of culture can’t be found at a Wendy’s.
A few minutes drive from K & J’s is 218 Chelten Ave., the address of Temptations Jazz Club and Gourmet Restaurant. From the sidewalk, the sun reflects on the large street-facing windows, making it difficult to see exactly what’s inside. But through the front door is a blast of cool air and a large, well-furnished dining room that wouldn’t look out of place in Center City. And neither would the menu.
“They know what I’m going to get: the salmon and string beans,” says customer Lisa Washington, standing next to her husband, Donald.
“The food here is awesome, very good. The salmon and rice,” he adds, trailing off as he shakes his head approvingly. “Oh, and the macaroni and cheese. And the greens.”
But the entrees don’t stop there. Options like Chilean sea bass, roasted duck and stuffed flounder can be found on the dinner menu. For lunch, more affordable options like grilled chicken and fried calamari are available. While Temptations may not serve as a fast-food replacement like K&J’s, it does display a breadth of options in Germantown that might easily be missed.
A few minutes walk from Temptations is the Black Pearl Bakery at 5534 Pulaski Ave. The lunch menu is one built on comfort —candied sweet potatoes, collard greens and homemade meatloaf sit on a warm buffet — and the layout is simple, with only a few tables and chairs stationed outside. But it is dessert that the Black Pearl is known for. Cakes of every size and taste line the shelves of the display cases, each one hand-crafted by baker Valerie Boggs.
“I make the 7-Up cake, the pound cake, the lemon cake with lemon icing, the triple chocolate, all sorts of things,” says Boggs, an excitement in her voice. “All of them, folks go crazy about all of them!”
The success seems to go with experience, as Boggs says she has been baking for over 30 years. She explains that her role as baker at the Black Pearl came through hard work, a bit of luck and a lot of skill.
“Once upon a time, I decided to make a couple of cakes at my house, and I said ‘I’m going to bring some cakes in here and let the folks try them,’” Boggs says. “So I started making a lot of cakes and bringing them in and coming in tired and Gerald [the owner] says ‘Val, why are you making all those cakes when yoo can do it here?’
And he got me all the equipment and then we opened up the bakery.”
Besides the cakes, a number of other items like pies and cookies round out a mouth-watering dessert menu. Not the healthiest selection by any means, but certainly a sweeter option than the Blizzards of Dairy Queen or Frosties at Wendy’s.
K & J’s Caribbean, Temptations Jazz Club and the Black Pearl Bakery are just a few of many locations around Germantown that offer a diverse range of food options. The list goes on: The soul food kitchen of The Nile Café at 6008 Germantown Ave., the affordable lunches of the Urban Café, located at 5815 Wayne Ave., and the shops at Maplewood Mall highlighted in the other half of this special report, round out the menu. One simply needs to do a bit of searching and make a few turns off the usual streets to find delicious escapes from fast food dining.
This article was written and reported by Jessica Lynn Argondizza, Kyle Bagenstose and Darla Synnestvedt for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a publication of Temple University's Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab, and originally published on June 28, 2010.